Dot Esports is one of several esports websites owned by Gamurs Group, an Australia-based company, which bought it from the Daily Dot in 2016. Dot Esports founder and Editor in Chief Kevin Morris said he is excited to be editing Wolf again. Morris acted as a mentor to Wolf when he joined as a cub reporter at 18 years old — after Wolf, who graduated high school early, dropped out of West Georgia Technical College, where he was pursuing a degree in computer information systems.
“With hiring Jacob, we want to go back to our roots and start doing really ambitious journalism again,” Morris said.
Morris, who holds a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School and was a Carnegie Fellow at ABC News, added he hopes the addition of Wolf will also help benefit the careers of some the younger reporters at Dot Esports. This includes new talent they are bringing in, such as 18-year-old Pablo Suarez, who was first to report TSM’s signing of SwordArt via Twitter in November, a development that was later confirmed.
Wolf, a Newman, Ga., native, said he was in discussions with dozens of outlets and was swayed by the opportunity to rejoin his mentor. Wolf also said his perspective on what a journalism career looks like changed during his decision-making process.
“I used to think it was linear going from one publication to another, but for me, I’m excited about the flexibility I’ll have to report on esports content,” he said. Wolf moved from New York City to Austin, where Dot Esports is based.
The move, both by Wolf and by Dot Esports, is significant in that the layoffs at ESPN sparked discussions online about what the network’s decision meant for esports coverage as a whole. Some interpreted the move by ESPN as an indictment of the value esports coverage could provide to a mainstream site in terms of developing a robust, regular readership.
Wolf said he planned to leave ESPN in late January, before the layoff announcement, due to his frustrations with workplace inefficiencies and the lack of institutional knowledge regarding esports and its associated culture.
“It was a lack of priority,” Wolf said. “We were so focused on what was tomorrow and not what was next week or next year. We were understaffed and we were asked to cover every single game, which spread a lot of us really thin. That also didn’t let us specialize. … I was writing things that anyone could write, which was not the best use my time as a well connected reporter.”
Through a spokesperson, ESPN rebutted Wolf’s claims and responded with a statement emailed to The Washington Post Sunday morning. The company noted it has not stopped all esports coverage and that it would be part of the network’s broader programming and coverage.
“Esports on ESPN.com was by far our lowest trafficked section and was among the most resourced, relative to traffic and compared to other sections,” the statement read. “Both considerations were factored into the difficult decisions we had to make as a result of the pandemic’s impact on our business. We are still committed to esports as an opportunity to expand our audience, and we’ll continue to do so through programming and coverage from the broader team for major events and breaking news.”
Wolf was complimentary about his time at ESPN as well, saying he was given access to financial resources and events that were not previously available to him, in addition to being able to work with other, more experienced journalists and on some of their shows.
Named by the Esports Awards as Journalist of the Year in 2018, Wolf said he had multiple offers following the break with ESPN, an experience that stands in contrast to other reporters in the journalism industry at large, which has shed half of its newsroom jobs between 2008 and 2019 and at least another 11,000 jobs in the first half of 2020. Morris said Dot Esports “lucked out” last year, as the site’s traffic grew enough to offset plummeting ad rates.
Wolf’s decision to stay in journalism is also notable, given the potentially higher paying opportunities in esports for content creators, consultants and other roles. Asked if he would consider a different beat, Wolf said he feels a responsibility to continue reporting on esports, for now.
“This space took me, a once very lower-middle-class kid in Georgia, to become a very successful journalist,” Wolf said. “I feel like I owe this industry. I owe it to these people to do good journalism. I want to make sure this beat is in good hands, and right now I don’t feel like it is.”
Noah Smith is a regular contributor to The Washington Post and staff journalist for Direct Relief, a nonprofit. Follow his work on Twitter @Vildehaya.